The LEICA Diaries - Part Nine

An old ferry terminal building in the Fife town of Newport taken with the Summaron.
Ferry crossings over the river Tay between Dundee and Newport had taken place for
centuries but had been operational in the "modern" sense from 1821. Then in 1966
a new road bridge opened and the following day the ferries ceased ploughing back
and forth. Some older folk still recall the boat trips with great fondness. My late dad
was an insurance agent in the 1950s and had to make a weekly call to Fife on his
bicycle. My mum said it was uncanny the number of times he would just miss the ferry
home and would have to wait in the local pub for the next one...

It was none other than Phil Rogers who said to me a few weeks back when we were discussing my early efforts to get comfortable with the Leica, "It does take a while, Bruce, but honest, after using one for some time, the clunk of a mirror going up and down becomes a total pain."

I reckon I'm now approaching that state of nirvana. I've read other people saying what I'm about to write and I can assure you it made no sense to me then and makes little sense now. The Leica does, indeed, let you move through life attracting as little attention to yourself or your exploits as possible.

Here's a quick iPhone pic of the ferry terminal as it now stands, looking over
the Tay to Dundee. The site is now used by a marine engine specialist. You
can see the building pictured at the top of this post at the left hand side of
the frame.

I've felt more conspicuous using a small digital camera and holding it at arms length than I do lifting the M2 to my eye. Contrary to a frequently made claim, I don't think it has too much to do with the Leica's famed quietness. After all, the wee digital affairs make virtually no noise at all.

I think it's because decisions about metering and composition tend to be made before looking through the M2. With all of that out of the way, it's just a case of raising the M2 and listening for the snick as the shutter trips. Normally the camera isn't dangling in front of my face for more than a few seconds. The photograph is over before anyone realises what I'm doing.

Industrial wasteland

I hardly ever photograph people but I have to agree with all those street photographers who love the Leica for just that unobtrusive quality. Here's how Garry Winogrand did it. You've probably seen the video before but, if not, it shows how quick you can be with the camera.

The only way I can think of improving the Leica experience might sound a bit drastic but it's not really: I think I'm going to get some contact lenses. I can see the 50mm frame lines just fine with glasses on but the 35mm frame lines remain pretty much a mystery to me. It would be so much better were I able to put my naked eye to the viewfinder. I used to wear contacts to work and for sports such as squash but haven't bothered with them for four or five years.

However, they're available very cheaply online now and, if you're counting pennies, only cost around 20p for a pair of daily disposables. I've always found them very easy to wear but I can't order any until I have an up-to-date eye test done so that'll have to be taken care of first. Then, I'll be out with the camera as nature - or at least Oscar Barnack - intended instead of looking at the world through triple glazing.

Leica users seem to take lots of pics of their pets so here's one of my
trio of scallywags.

I suspect contact lenses will make a HUGE difference to shooting with the Leica and that's got to be something worth trying. They might also make using the Konica Hexar AF a more pleasurable experience as well. That camera has probably my favourite 35mm lens - the f2 Hexanon - permanently attached to it and I'd love to use it in tandem with the M2 but glasses tend to get in the way a bit here as well.

With Tmax 400 rated a stop faster and with the Hexar on a monopod I reckon I'd be able to take hand-held shots of around 1/15th of a second which would make non-tripod based night photography a possibility again. I haven't really been able to do that since giving up the 3200 ISO capabilities of the DSLR. The only fear is that once I start seeing "properly" through a viewfinder I might never want to pick up an SLR again!


  1. I like most dropped the RF for the SLR in the late 60s. Now I'm back (somewhat) to the RF as even with my glasses I find it easier to focus (and focus well) with my Bessa R and even the Leica IIIf.

  2. My only issue with the viewfinder/rangefinder with my failing 'bins' Bruce is focusing using the 135mm Elmar on my M5. Not an issue with my 135mm hektor on my IIIf.Thought about a Leica 1.5x viewfinder magnifier. But very expensive. I actually shot a whole film yesterday in the local woods practicing focusing with the 135m Elmar. Results of the exercise yet to be developed.

  3. Bruce - I have an M2 and wear contacts and I think you'll be pleasantly surprised. The M2 is a perfect fit with a 35mm lens - the framelines and surrounding area are easy to see, with no displays, needles or other framelines to distract. I use a 35/1.4 Nokton which is fairly compact, so it doesn't intrude into the VF much.

    It's certainly the smoothest, most intuitive camera I've ever owned and probably the last one I would ever sell.

  4. Have you thought about an accessory finder Bruce? There's some reasonably priced ones out there that might do the trick.

    Very glad you're enjoying the experience though - the feel of an M2 is like nothing else isn't it.

  5. Wonderful to see this record of your increasing immersion in the Leica experience. I am sure you're right about the quick up and down with the camera. In fact this is even more fleeting when using external finders, which I do for 21 mainly. Mostly I am using digital Leicas now but I just finished a roll of Ektar in my M2.

    I wear glasses and one of the great advantages of the Leica for us spectacle wearers is having the viewfinder at the edge of the body. When I bought my 35 Summicron in my late 30s I finally taught myself to shoot with the right eye, despite being left handed and partially amblyopic in my right eye. You can get closer to the eyepiece shooting with the right eye. I use the left when the camera is vertical. It's a slight stretch to use the glorious open M2 35mm frame lines but I'm used to it. The problem with the SBLOO finder is that you'd be back to having your nose on the back of the camera, your head cocked to one side and still having a stretch to see the SBLOO's frame lines. And it's a much bigger device than the little SBOOI 50mm accessory finder, glued to my Leica II.

    So I'd say that given how quickly you've become comfortable with the M2 you'll soon be feeling the field of view despite your marginal sight of the four frame lines of the 35 mask.

  6. To repeat my earlier comment, your compositions appear to me to be tighter and more graphic with the Leica than they were with the SLR.

  7. I also love my Hexar AF and find it's lens sublime. I wear glasses too (and used to wear contacts but as I got older need the "progressive" eyeglass lenses for accurate vision both near and far, can't have that with the contacts). That said I do not use my RF-type cameras like my Leicas and Hexar AF worrying too much for exact, perfectly accurate framing, if I want that its my Contax, Nikon or Oly SLRs I use.

    Have you considered perhaps Tri-X developed in Diafine for some night shooting with the Hexar? That will get you 1200-1600 ASA and an ability to use the Hexar maybe even without the monopod, for sure with, and another stop of two. Diafine holds the highlights in good check and the more contrast that results is not often much of an issue with most night street work at least the kind I'd do when wanting the more causal and ease of a hand-held RF. I plan to give this combo a try again soon.

    For tack sharp, long-exposure and smooth tonality night street and city scenes it's the medium format gear on heavy tripods then.

  8. Hi Richard,

    I love Tri X in Diafine but can't get the bloody developer over here - at least last time I looked.

    Have you tried just one contact lens? My slightly short-sighted better half does that on the recommendation of her optician and doesn't need reading glasses. Sounds weird but works with one eye compensating for the other.

  9. Stefan Eisele9 May 2015 at 23:50

    Hi Bruce,
    You can get Diafine at fotoimpex: